With the North American International Auto Show in town, it's a good time to take a fresh look at downtown Detroit's dining scene. In the very best sense, it's where glitz and grime, past and future, rub elbows — where you can have haute cuisine and flowers or coney dogs and cigarettes. So dig in!
Anchor Bar & Grill 450 W. Fort St., 313-964-9127: Those who aren't swayed by the Anchor's sturdy tavern fare may enjoy the watering hole's wealth of local history. Predating Prohibition, this institution has enough vintage local political, media and sports photos and memorabilia to make a museum envious.
Bucharest Grill 2040 Park Ave. (on Elizabeth), 313-962-2933: This tiny takeout place attached to the Park Bar has affordable shawarma sandwiches and solid french fries. Bucharest is a welcome alternative to soaking up a night's drinking with Coney dogs, though some object to the use of mayonnaise in the vegetarian shawarma.
Centaur Bar 2233 Park Ave., 313-963-4040: Sitting directly behind the Fox Theatre in the heart of Detroit's sports and theater district, Centaur occupies the first two floors of the old Iodent Toothpaste factory. Daily happy hour, 4-7 p.m., has $5 martinis. Culinary offerings include smallish plates like lollipop lamb chops with mint sauce. Kitchen open till 2 a.m. nightly.
Cliff Bell's 2030 Park Ave., 313-961-2543: The gloriously art deco splendor of Cliff Bell's recalls the 1930s. This night spot smacks of a more sensuous era, when patrons haunted such smoky little cabarets with relish. With their nattily attired staff and live music, it's not hard to get lost in the illusion of Detroit's bustling past. What's more, the joint now sports a kitchen.
Coach Insignia 200 Renaissance Center, 313-567-2622: Perched atop the Renaissance Center's tallest tower, Coach Insignia has the best view of any restaurant in the city, with spectacular riverfront views — oddly enough, mostly of Canada. The commanding vista and the upscale fare will cost you plenty, though.
Cyprus Taverna 579 Monroe, 313-961-1550: Smack in the heart of Greektown for more than a decade, this hospitable restaurant has a reputation for doing lamb right. For their lamb riganato, succulent pieces of lamb are slow-roasted in olive oil, lemon, oregano, garlic and the meat's natural juices. The meat is reputed to be so tender that your knife will go unused.
Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille 2211 Woodward Ave., 313-471-3500: Theatergoers and sports fans looking for a nearby and upscale meal need look no further than inside the Fox Theatre building. Expect chops, pastas and fish dishes, prepared with an Italian flair. Open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 5-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Reservations suggested before games and shows.
Detroit Beer Co. 1529 E. Broadway, 313-962-1529: Sister brewpub to the suburban Royal Oak Brewery, this appealing joint hard by the Detroit Opera House has an attractive dining area in the back and a long bar up front. Use the rotating seasonal house brews to wash down calorie-laden specialties, including chicken smothered in Muenster cheese floating on spaetzle.
Detroit Breakfast House & Grill 1241 Woodward Ave., 313-961-1115: For "power lunchers" accustomed to starting the day with high-end fare on weekdays, but on weekends you'll find the place packed with ordinary folks enticed downtown by the notion of upscale Southern cooking.
Elwood Bar & Grill 300 Adams St., Detroit; 313-962-BEER: Detroit's most recognizable art deco diner, built in 1936, was named for the intersection of its original location, on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Woodward Avenue. But to make way for Comerica Park, the enduring night haunt was moved to the corner of Adams and Brush, where it now sits behind the ballpark's giant scoreboard.
Enoteca Campo Marzio 660 Woodward Ave., 313-784-9783: What self-respecting downtown is complete without a wine bar? And now, with this stylish joint where the hip sip, our urbanity is complete. Features attractive views of Campus Martius.
Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafe 400 Monroe St., 313-965-4600: Fishbone's has earned its reputation for doing things in a big way. Belly up to one of the two bars for drinks, or sit in the spacious main dining area. Its Cajun and Creole dishes go beyond jambalaya and fried catfish. But the main event is their huge weekly brunch.
Good Girls Go to Paris Crêpes 2 John R, Detroit, 313-964-2023: The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment at this miniature downtown eatery. Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing through the window on a paper plate. Don't call ahead. Your crêpe does need to be made to order, and it'll be much better if you eat it right then.
Hard Rock Cafe 45 Monroe St., 313-964-7625: With a history steeped in music and a populace that loves hearty tavern fare, Detroit makes a natural choice for a Hard Rock franchise.
Jacoby's German Biergarten 624 Brush St., 313-962-7067: Billed as downtown Detroit's oldest saloon and restaurant, the joint retains its Old World warmth, with a dark old bar, wood-paneled walls and excellent sandwiches.
Lafayette Coney Island 118 W. Lafayette Blvd., 313-964-8198: Many late-night music lovers head here for that unique Detroit confection, our equivalent of the baguette, the Coney dog: an all-beef frank in a warm hot dog bun, drizzled with chili, mustard and raw chopped onions. Part of the fun is the waitstaff, who enthusiastically bellow food orders to the kitchen at maximum volume. Smoky, friendly.
Lola's 1427 Randolph St., Detroit; 313-962-0483: Harmonie Park holds a culinary gem in the jazzy, comfortably friendly Lola's, where complex dishes unite down-home fare with high-toned flavor. In addition to sturdy entrées (think char-grilled rib-eye or sautéed salmon), simple sandwiches and appetizers are given uptown takes. Live music on some nights; call for details.
Lot 1210 1344 Broadway, 1-888-900-1210: Stylish joint with a long bar, colorful decor, a small seating area and a large dance floor, Lot 1210 caters to office workers at lunch, post-work boozers at happy hour, and dance-happy clubbers by night.
MGM Grand Buffet 1777 Third St. (inside MGM Grand Casino), 313-393-7777: Think of the food court at your local mall. Now ratchet it up several notches, because everything is done to excess in casino-land. Ten food stations to choose from.
Mosaic 501 Monroe St., 313-962-9366: Greektown isn't all moussaka and lamb dishes — occupying the high culinary territory is Mosaic, which serves fusion food with a mostly Mediterranean influence. The dramatic interior is matched by top-quality food, keeping the flavors crisp but complex. Dress code: No ball caps.
Orchid Thai 115 Monroe St., 313-962-0225: This downtown Thai stop's great location in the Compuware headquarters pulls in a lunch crowd that can fill every chair in the commodious eatery. Portions are generous, staff is helpful, food is excellent, and prices are reasonable.
Opus One 565 E. Larned St., 313-961-7766: A pricey and elegant spot for an upscale continental lunch or dinner, Opus One has managed to weather a dining climate of declining corporate accounts with its far-out fare. For a bargain taste of what the kitchen can do, visit the Bistro Bar next door for a hot appetizer platter.
Purple Door Tea Room 35 Grand River E., 313-961-0634: An honest-to-goodness tea room, doilies and all, open noon-5 p.m Tuesday through Saturday, though the owners need reservations 24 hours in advance. The menu varies, but they aim to please, saying they can do everything from tea for two to a party of two dozen.
Rowland Café 500 Griswold St., 313-964-1928: Housed in the restored mezzanine of Detroit's art deco Guardian Building, this café sits open under the high ceiling, with its gaudy flourishes, amid Detroit-themed shops. Expect pastries, sandwiches, coffee, but the real treat is the view.
Seldom Blues 400 Renaissance Center, 313-567-7301: This sophisticated jazz supper club on the river has handsome views and a team of celebrity owners. The musical lineup is heavy on — but not limited to — smooth jazz. Last year the bar made Esquire's list of the best in America.
Small Plates 1521 Broadway, 313-963-0497: What could be more romantic than nibbling off the same plate? The diminutive dishes here run the gamut from hand-cut fries ($4) to pan-seared scallops ($17). And Small Plates is serious about the food. They make almost everything in-house, including their own mayo and ketchup!
Sweet Georgia Brown 1045 Brush St., 313-965-1245: This top-drawer eatery near Greektown has a dramatic interior dominated by a round raised platform with a bar and a grand piano. (Live jazz is a nightly feature.) Soul food gets promoted to high cuisine, with a menu that scatters pralines on salad, soup, potatoes and dessert.
Sweet Lorraine's Café and Bar 333 E. Jefferson Ave., 313-223-3933: Originally established in the suburbs in 1982 by Chef Lorraine Platman, this "casual, fun and delicious" restaurant has made a bid for the downtown dining crowd by opening up inside the Courtyard Marriott hotel.
The Woodward 1040 Woodward Ave., 313-964-4444: The handsome, brown-toned, 80-100 seat dining room is cleverly designed with hints of Detroit's street layout and the Great Lakes. Appetizers include Cajun-grilled shrimp. Between upscale and informal, entrées average about $16.
Vicente's Cuban Cuisine 1250 Library St., 313-962-8800: Wash down delicious Cuban sandwiches with tasty mojitos. Not an inexpensive dining choice, many patrons are drawn by the dancing at Vicente's, where they even give wary patrons a lesson on some nights.